14 July 2012

How Jamie Dimon and 'Flexible Accounting' Hid JPM's London Whale Loss

"I am making an enemy here when I say something like this, but the Fed should replace Jaime Dimon. They should replace him for utter failure of corporate governance and telling the truth too slowly.”

Janet Tavakoli

They will not get rid of him, they will continue to support him, even idolize him, because he is their partner in le vaste contrée mythique du papier, a grand, mythical kingdom made of paper.

As I said when the earnings results came out, before I even looked at the numbers in detail, JPM raided their loss reserves, along with a few other accounting tricks outlined below, to make the London Whale loss go away and achieve their forecast earnings number to the penny.

When a major event occurs and a company can hit forecast to the penny there are only so many ways to accomplish this, and most of them involve creative accounting. The same goes for companies who make the number exactly, or even more arrogantly plus one penny, quarter after quarter after quarter.

Those are 'managed earnings.' And that is a euphemism for the kind of accounting that belies a papier-mâché balance sheet, a scripted income statement, and troubles yet to come when the strong winds of global change start to blow again.

How Jamie Dimon hid the $6 billion loss
By Stephen Gandel, senior editor
July 13, 2012

A mixture of accounting moves and rosy assumptions appear to have masked JPMorgan's London Whale loss.

FORTUNE -- Here is perhaps the most amazing thing about JPMorgan Chase's (JPM) $5.8 billion trading loss: Take a look at the firm's overall results, and it's like the London Whale's misstep, one of the largest flubs in the history of Wall Street, never happened.

Back in mid-April, about two weeks before talk of the trading losses emerged, JPMorgan was expected to earn $1.21 a share in its second quarter. On Friday, JPMorgan reported that it had, Whale and all, earned exactly that.

How the bank appears to have offset the huge trading loss is a prime example of how complex and malleable bank profits actually are, and how much they should be believed. JPMorgan's quarter should give fodder for accountants to talk about for some time.

"Yes, I have seen these results, but I have also seen how the sausage is made and I am worried that I might get food poisoning in the future," Mike Mayo of Credit Agricole Securities and author of the book Exile on Wall Street told Dimon in a meeting with analysts following the bank's earnings release.

Sure some of JPMorgan's businesses were strong. Profits in its mortgage operations, helped by falling interest rates, rose by nearly $1.3 billion. But a good deal of JPMorgan's earnings came from some shifting of losses and an assumption that things for the bank, and the economy in general, are about to get a good deal better. That assumption might prove right, but it could also add to losses in the future.

So how do you make a nearly $6 billion loss go away?

First stop taxes. The bank said that the London Whale's blunder cost the bank $4.4 billion in the second quarter alone. But that's before taxes. After it pays taxes, though, JPMorgan says the loss will shrink to just over $2.7 billion, which means the bank plans to take a $1.7 billion write off from Uncle Sam. Like any loss, banks are allowed to use trading blunders to offset taxable profits elsewhere in the bank. The question is the rate. At $1.7 billion, JPMorgan is writing off roughly 38% of the loss. That's not that out of line with the U.S. corporate tax rate, but it's a far larger percentage of profits than most companies actually pay. Nonetheless, on taxes alone, the bank was able to shrink the London Whale's wake to $4.1 billion.

We haven't left the firm's vaunted chief investment office yet. CEO Jamie Dimon has long said the portfolio is safe and that if he were to liquidate it today he could produce an $8 billion gain for the bank. In the second quarter, he dipped into some of that. London Whale aside, the CIO took a $630 million gain. Now we're down to $3.5 billion.

Next stop loan losses. Banks have to put money away for loans they believe are going to go bad. But banks can lower their expenses by putting away less money for future loan losses. In the second quarter, the bank put away just over $200 million for future loan losses. That was not only the lowest amount the bank had set aside in any three month period since the start of the financial crisis, it was the lowest by far. A year ago, the loan loss provision was $1.8 billion.

What's more, not only did the bank put away less money for future loans, it also pulled back money it had put away in the past. And any money you take out of your loan loss reserves the accountants let you send right to your bottom line. It appears $1.3 billion, or about 28% of the company's total second quarter profit, came from this move, which is again only real earnings to accountants....

Read the rest here.